By The Nation
Technological advances are of course going to roil global competition, but current tensions between the United States and China are worrying on a different level, not least because they could stymie
technology for which the whole world is waiting. Specifically, Washington’s concerns that the Chinese tech giant Huawei poses a threat to its security and that of other nations threatens to disrupt the development of global 5G networks, and this is bad news for
consumers around the world.
Washington is trying to persuade other countries to block Huawei from having a role in inaugurating faster, more accessible 5G Internet connectivity, claiming the Chinese government is capable of implanting spyware in whatever Huawei is allowed to introduce. The Chinese firm, which has built up a strong lead in 5G technology, has
bristled at the allegation, but telecom regulators in quite a few countries are showing caution. Still, they are
resolutely preparing for 5G and Huawei’s ability to contribute cannot easily be ignored.
American news network CNN has reported that European telecoms will be significantly affected by the
showdown. The continent’s economic progress is tied to 5G, and US-China bickering over its adoption throws up a purely political and wholly unnecessary obstacle. There are meanwhile unnecessary distractions to the debate, as in Huawei’s ads in New Zealand proclaiming that 5G without Huawei would be like rugby without the All Blacks. This is insulting, self-indulgent nonsense.
Rather than facetious sporting metaphors, better to consider the harm that less-developed societies will suffer if denied 5G because of politicking. This is a connective, encompassing technology that might truly, finally democratise the world because it can deliver knowledge, healthcare and
previously unimaginable career opportunities to the remote and the
Western leaders preach about social equality but are haggling over the best available technology to deliver it. In poorer nations, people yearn just to be able to afford older technologies. The promise that 5G holds is not only a technological revolution for richer countries but also the chance for poverty-stricken nations to benefit from the most recent innovations.
And yet the current US-China
standoff over Huawei is blamed on Beijing’s growing economic and
technological clout. Consider the tech players in this face-off. America’s Apple, which is not even a telecom company, is rumoured to be pondering a significant price cut for its once-untouchable, now challenged iPhone. China’s Huawei is soaring towards market dominance on the back of domestic innovative prowess and the stuttering advance of its European competitors.
The competition will only intensify, and every indication is that this will not be healthy for anyone. Factored into the discussion is the tendency among Western media to rail against Chinese advances as a threat to cherished
freedoms, even as other commentators point out America’s history of also using technology for political purposes. Huawei as spyware built into your mobiles and household appliances versus US National Security Agency phone-tapping.
But never lose sight of who is lost in this marketing greed. It’s the citizens of nations around the globe that could benefit most from the new technology, the very people who stand to be denied their easier access to knowledge and opportunities.